The 2016 NBA Draft is officially less than a month away, and as each day passes, it looks more and more likely that Brandon Ingram will fall to the Lakers with the No. 2 pick, finally providing them a long-term solution at the small forward position.
If that scenario plays out on June 23, that would leave one glaring hole on the roster left. With Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, Tarik Black (restricted) and Robert Sacre all hitting the free agent market in July, the Lakers will need to address the center position.
Since virtually every 2016 NBA Mock Draft (Except our latest, of course) has the Lakers drafting Ingram with the second pick, what could be their center options in the second round with the No. 32 overall selection? The draft is always unpredictable, but here are a few options that are projected to be selected near the end of the first round or early in the second.
Note: Players are listed in the order that they are ranked in DraftExpress’ mock draft.
Cheick Diallo — Kansas
Before I go any further, let me just say that I do not expect Diallo to be available for the Lakers in the second round, but you never know what can happen with the draft. The freshman from Kansas is a bit undersized from a height standpoint at 6-foot-9. However, his 7-foot-4 wingspan certainly helps compensate for that.
Diallo’s skill set is still very raw, mainly because of a severe lack of experience playing the game of basketball. But that is why a lot of teams will be intrigued by him. His motor is almost unheard of for a big man, and he has incredible mobility to go with it. Diallo had one of the best showings in this year’s NBA Draft Combine, which likely solidified a first round selection for him.
His game needs plenty of polishing, as you would expect with someone still new to the game. Whichever team drafts him, though, will get a big man that will run the floor and constantly work hard, along with the potential to be a very good defensive player and a good pick-and-roll option in the NBA. It will be interesting to see how effective Diallo is at the next level once he gets a better feel for the game.
Zhou Qi — International
Qi’s measurables are off the charts. Standing at 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-8 wingspan and 9-foot-5 standing reach, teams will be gushing over the possibility to work with his set of physical tools, which is why he probably comes off the board before the Lakers find themselves back on the clock at No. 32.
Qi is just 20 years old, and has a surprisingly polished skill set at his size. He moves extremely well and although his jumper is not the smoothest you will see from a big man, it is effective. He is able to knock down shots from midrange and, on occasion, from deep.
So, what’s the drawback? Qi weighed in at just 218 pounds at the combine, which raises a sizable red flag in regards to how he will handle the physicality of the NBA. His frail frame results in him getting bullied in the paint, and that would likely only increase against the big men the league has to offer. Also, there is the uncertainty that seems to naturally come along with international prospects, due to less film and a smaller sample size to evaluate from. There’s definitely some intrigue with Qi, but questions about how his body will hold up until he can add strength could see him falling to the tail end of the first round.
Final note: Whichever team drafts him, that fan base better call him “The Big Zucchini” or they don’t deserve the pick (Get it? Zhou Qi = Zucchini!).
Diamond Stone — Maryland
First of all, how awesome is that name? It’s not quite Dragan Bender level, but it’s pretty damn cool.
Anyways, Stone is a bit undersized for a center at just 6-foot-9, but his 7-foot-3 wingspan and strong frame helps make up for that. I do have some concerns about how Stone’s game will translate to the NBA. A lot of his offensive damage was done in the post, as you might expect for a big man, but that might not be an aspect that new head coach Luke Walton wishes to utilize all that much with an offensive system that aims to duplicate what the Golden State Warriors run. The freshman showed tremendous patience and footwork on a number of his post-ups throughout the season, although it can kill ball movement quite often and stagnate an offensive set.
To Stone’s credit, he does have an effective midrange jumper which would be great alongside raging bull that is Julius Randle. Overall, though, Stone’s game might be better suited in a different system. The Lakers are going to push tempo like crazy under Walton, and I feel like his skill set would produce better results in a more traditional, slower offensive system. Additionally, Stone needs considerable work on the defensive end, where he struggled mightily at times against players that could match his size, and Los Angeles needs a rim protector and defensive anchor in the worst way.
Stephen Zimmerman — UNLV
Zimmerman has seen his draft stock dwindle a bit throughout the year, mainly because of some injuries, but there is a lot of promise with him. He possesses adequate size for a center at 6-foot-11, 235 pounds with a 7-foot-3 wingspan.
At the age of 19, Zimmerman already has a skill set that would fit well with what Walton wants to run with the Lakers. He can run the floor extremely well when he wants to, which would be great alongside Los Angeles’ current young core. Additionally, he can step out and hit shots away from the basket, thanks to a pretty smooth jumper. Occasionally at UNLV, he would step out from beyond the three-point line, shooting 25 percent from deep. Obviously, that’s not a great percentage, but it’s something to work with.
The big man has a solid face-up game as well. When the defense respects his jumper by closing out hard, he can put the ball on the floor and go to the rim, where he displayed some emphatic finishes as a freshman.
The hope is that with the right coaching and added experience, Zimmerman can iron out some of the kinks in his game. He was not an efficient scorer this season, so that needs improvement, along with his overall toughness. Improving his physicality could help him in a number of areas on both ends of the floor. Being that he is still just 19, there is plenty of time to work with him.
With some refinement, Zimmerman could be a steal at the end of the first round or early in the second.
Chinanu Onuaku — Louisville
If Onuaku elects to stay in the draft, he could be an intriguing option for the Lakers in the second round, assuming he is still on the board. He took a considerable leap from his freshman to sophomore season at Louisville, showing flashes of multiple facets of his game.
Onuaku measured 6-foot-9 at the combine in Chicago earlier this month, but he plays much bigger, as he showed with a solid outing at the event. The 19-year-old is a strong, physical presence in the paint that can bring some greatly needed defensive prowess to Los Angeles. He has shown he can be a serviceable rim protector, and his ability to pass the ball would make him a fantastic fit in the Lakers’ new offensive system. Although a terrible free throw shooter, Onuaku displayed glimpses of an ability to knock down 15-footers this past season, which would help provide floor spacing if it becomes consistent.
He still has a ways to go with multiple aspects of his game, but a promising foundational skill set is there. Onuaku went from averaging 3 points and 4.6 rebounds in 17.8 minutes as a freshman to 9.9 points and 8.5 rebounds in 24.6 minutes during his sophomore year, while shooting right around 62 percent both seasons.
Thon Maker — High School
Maker has received plenty of attention coming into the draft. He found a sort of loophole in the early entry process, leaving prep school for the NBA. The 7-foot-1, 225 pound big man is a bit of a project with an unusual skill set for a center. Maker has a pretty good motor, competing hard on the glass and on defense. Despite his narrow frame, he does not appear to be overly afraid of contact.
Even with his motor and willingness to absorb contact, though, Maker still struggles with it because of his lack of strength. He does not appear to be a great finisher inside, which is why he is forced to step out a lot and take jump shots. Although he is a capable jump shooter, he will need to learn how to be more efficient in the paint.
Offensively, he just needs a lot of refinement. His feel for the game is poor and his hands are even worse, which leads to some terrible decision making, turnovers and missed opportunities. He has some of the physical tools that could make him a very good player, but it probably won’t be for at least a few years, even with the right coach.
With all that being said, I would be surprised if Maker makes it out of the first round. He’s a project that a playoff team can take a flier on late in the first, hoping it pays off in a big way down the line.
A.J. Hammons — Purdue
This is the guy to really keep an eye on at No. 32 for the Lakers. General manager Mitch Kupchak has drafted older prospects later in the past two drafts with Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr. and Anthony Brown. Hammons will turn 24 in August, which is part of why his stock is not higher. But the Purdue big man has tremendous size as a 7-footer with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, weighing roughly 280 pounds. The size is great, but he is also a pretty mobile with it, which could help him in transition when he wants to get up the floor and in pick-and-roll sets with the Lakers.
What could also help him as a pick-and-roll big is his ability to step out and knock down perimeter shots. Hammons only took 11 three-point shots last season, but he connected on six of them (54.5 percent). He could provide the floor spacing necessary for Walton’s offensive system to really thrive, especially alongside Randle, who has a long way to go with his jumper at this point in time.
Defensively, he appears to be an ideal fit as well because of the rim protection he offers. Hammons uses his size and length extremely well, averaging 4.2 blocks per 40 minutes, pace adjusted.
The main issue with Hammons, besides his age, is his motor. His effort is very inconsistent and it shows when he takes certain possessions off, both on the glass and on defense. Perhaps Walton could help Hammons improve in those areas and become a solid NBA center, because the skill set is ideal for what the Lakers could use at center.
All statistics courtesy of DraftExpress.